Enjoy this podcast with John Rawley of The Alternative Comedy Theater in Dallas.
Podcast with John Rawley and Brad McEntire
Going to the Theatre now implies much more than passive attendance at a performance (i.e. the way we might file into cinemas); it signifies participation in the social life of our cities, our communities. Contemporary theatre-goers - those brave few who recognize how important it is to feed one's mind and soul as well as one's stomach and investment portfolio - are likely to arrive early for pre-show snacks in the lobby or grab dinner, perhaps, at a restaurant in the neighborhood. A contemporary theatre-goer will more than likely stay late for a post-performance discussion, chit-chat with the artists in the lobby after the show, attend lectures on a Saturday afternoon, visit the plaza for a midday lunch concert or reading, take a youngster to a children's puppet theatre performance at an informal outdoor amphitheatre. Today's theatre-goer may take in a late-night comedy revue over cocktails. In short, contemporary theatre-goers are informed, involved and demanding. Expectations are high. And well, they should be. Educated patrons and sincere supporters should be valued, especially in today’s media-saturated, million-choice society. Pandered to? No. But valued and developed.
So, should a single theatre company provide all the services listed above? Maybe, though I imagine such an institution as a theatrical equivalent to Walmart. Like its retail doppelganger, this one-stop theatre might have a wide selection, but the quality will be kind of “meh…” Besides, when the cold light of reality shines on the financial resources of most theatre companies, this is hardly possible or practical.
But, and here’s the silver lining…This is what a theatre community is for. A bunch of theatres sticking close to their guns and mission statements share the burden… no not burden… responsibility of supplying for the needs of the cultural community.
The Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex is blessed in that it has an incredibly diverse theatrical ecosystem.
Theatre for different ethnic audiences? Got it.
Puppetry? Got it.
Mid-century fare? Got it.
Light comedy and farce? Got it.
Regional off-Broadway pieces? Got it.
Musicals of all kinds? Got it.
New and original works? Got it.
Dance theatre? Got it.
Classics? Got it.
Popcorn-throwing melodrama? Got it.
And so on.
This diversity is a boon for audiences, but also for artists as well. Whatever your poison, DFW was some of it. If, as an actor, you want to try your hand at murder mysteries or experimental works, there are avenues for it in the DFW cultural landscape.
It is with this in mind I sought out John Rawley. He heads a local improv theatre. Improvisation is not always understood by the general public as a form of theatre (it is, unfortunately, often confused with stand-up comedy or considered only under the dubious, dismissive heading “entertainment”). In fact, improv is a rather pure form of theatre, invented on the spot and performed without a net, so to speak. Improvisation is, in this writer’s humble opinion, an excellent way to train actors in almost all the basics of stage performance: listening, awareness, physicality, response, projection, collaboration, and the list goes on…
The Alternative Comedy Theater is housed in a small studio close to SMU, a few blocks north of Mockingbird Station. Rawley, with a background in commercial acting, music, traditional stage performance and, of course, improv comedy organizes his company specifically around spontaneous theatre. His mission is to train, promote and produce improv theatre shows. The Alternative Comedy Theater, with its specialized mission is holding up its end as one branch of what is the dynamic theatre community of North Texas.
~ Brad McEntire